For all the peace you find in your cuppa, it is respectful to remember that tea has had a contentious history, particularly outside its home country of China and especially in the last couple of centuries.
Tea history has blood on its hands, from the Opium Wars between the British and Chinese to the indentured labour used across India and Sri Lanka, and not to mention the thousands of would-be tea workers who lost their lives on the way to tea fields because of appalling transport conditions.
International Tea Day brings to the fore ethical considerations with regard to workers’ rights and their experience on tea plantations around the world.
In 2004, at the World Social Forum, international organisations and trade unions from a number of countries proposed a conference “to frame a universal declaration on the rights of the tea workers and small growers in order to strengthen advocacy and campaign activities at various levels,” according to the Centre for Education and Communication India (read a PDF of the report here).
The following year, delegates representing the tea industries of Bangladesh, Indonesia, India, Kenya, Malaysia, Malawi, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Uganda, and Vietnam, participated in a two-day conference over 13-14 December, which culminated in celebrating International Tea Day at its conclusion on 15 December.
How can you celebrate?
Drink ethically. While your tea need not carry an official Fairtrade label, it is good to know where it comes from and how the plantation treats its workers.
Try a cuppa from a different country. If you usually drink Chinese tea, have a go at an Indonesian brew, or if you have a taste for Ceylon, get some Nepalese tea on your palate.
Support local growers. Australia’s tea industry is tiny compared to other countries but it’s good to know what home brew tastes like as your mouth seeks leaf abroad.